Tambor docked at Coast Guard Air Station with unidentified men aboard. (Nancy VanSickle collection)

Tambor docked at Coast Guard Air Station with unidentified men aboard. (Nancy VanSickle collection)

BACK WHEN: They found a place to call home

Sailors return to Clallam County after their service

A WISE MAN reminded us there is an appointed time for everything. There is “A time for war, and a time for peace” (Eccl 3:8). World War II was one of those times for war.

Many of our local citizens were eager to enlist and journeyed far from our community. World War II also brought others into our community.

In his book, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” author Mitch Albom wrote, “Young men go to war. Sometimes because they have to, sometimes because they want to. Always, they feel they are supposed to.” That is a good description of the men and women who enlisted during World War II.

The Navy kept two Yard Mine Sweepers and two Patrol Crafts assigned to Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles. Their duty was to intercept every merchant ship entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca and check their cargo and crew against enemy action. Starting on March 15, 1945, Port Angeles also had a fleet submarine stationed here. It was the USS Tambor (SS-198). (Is that what people meant when they would drive out to the spit to watch the submarine races?)

The Tambor was commissioned on June 3, 1940. It was the first of a newly designed Tambor class of submarine. It was the U.S. Navy’s first fully successful fleet submarine design. The Tambor was at sea patrolling off Wake Island when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. That became the official start of her first war patrol.

Her patrol was cut short by an engine failure. She was sent to Mare Island Naval Yard for repairs.

There were 12 Tambor-class submarines built, and they all saw hard service. Seven of the 12 boats were sunk before the war ended. This was the highest percentage lost of any U.S. submarine class.

The Tambor made 12 war patrols, including the aborted first patrol. The remaining 11 patrols were very successful. Patrols lasted an average of 50 days, a long time to be at sea in cramped quarters.

Submarines were not particularly fast. The Tambor-class boats were rated for 20.4 knots (23.5 mph) surfaced and 8.75 knots (10 mph) submerged. They had a complement of six officers and 54 enlisted men.

The unofficial count states the Tambor sank 26 Japanese vessels with tonnage sunk totaling more than 100,000 tons.

With her war-time duty complete, the Tambor was assigned to Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles. When she entered Port Angeles for the first time, she was flying her battle flag and all her kill flags. The folks greeting her were surprised that so small a vessel could sink so many ships.

Tambor’s new duties were to train naval reservists. She would act as a training ship for dive-bombers needing to make practice runs on submarines while she initiated evasive maneuvers.

Throughout the war, many U.S. Navy personnel rotated through our city. Our community was happy to support the war effort any way it could, including hospitality.

The United Services Organization (USO) provided it services in Port Angeles. The USO sought to be the enlisted man’s home away from home.

Bosun’s Mate James Birely, USN retired, wrote a thank-you letter to us in 1974. He said, “The people treated us like we were their own. I’ve never forgotten that.” He also thanked the many people “who took us into their homes, their hearts, and treated us with every bit of kindness that they could bestow upon us in those hectic days.”

There is a delightful side story here. After her time in Port Angeles, the Tambor was assigned to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for decommissioning. Norma Richardson of Port Angeles arranged for a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend, Travis White, a sailor on the Tambor. Through the Portsmouth (N.H.) Chamber of Commerce, she arranged to have an oven-baked cake taken to Travis and his shipmates on the Tambor. That display of kindness showed who we were.

The sailors saw that Clallam County offered many outdoor recreational opportunities such as hunting and fishing. When coupled with the kindness of the people, it is no wonder that some sailors returned to Clallam County when they were discharged from service.

One of those sailors who returned was Hubert Gerald (Jerry) Dunn. His daughter, Nancy Van Sickle, recalled her dad saying how much he liked it here when he was serving on the Tambor, and this was where he wanted to settle when he was discharged.

Jerry enlisted in the Navy on Jan. 24, 1942, when he was 18. Jerry was a torpedoman and served on the Tambor during its last four war patrols (9 through 12). I suspect a good portion of the time spent on patrol rotated between routine and boredom. But, the times in actual combat, was hard service.

During the ninth patrol, the Tambor was engaged in a surface battle and she barely evaded ramming by a Japanese escort vessel. During the same patrol, she fired two torpedoes at a cargo ship, hitting it. She then fired a torpedo at a tanker, hitting it.

But Japanese defenses forced the Tambor to go deep and sit on the bottom. She remained there under depth-charge attack for nine hours. A Tambor-class submarine could endure only 48 hours continuously under water.

On her 10th patrol, she endured another attack, taking 50 depth charges. After surfacing, she tried to reengage but again had to endure a depth-charge attack.

The Tambor’s 11th and 12th patrols also saw hard service. It must have been a great relief for Jerry and all his crewmates to be finished with combat and see the Tambor assigned to training duty. The crew likely knew how many of their sister submarines had been sunk.

Before he was discharged from service, Jerry married the love of his life, Lois Miller, on Oct. 22, 1945. Jerry was discharged from service in December 1946. He served four years, 10 months and six days.

As they wanted, Jerry and Lois returned to Port Angeles to establish a life and raise a family. Jerry and Lois raised three daughters here: Linda, Cathy and Nancy.

Jerry worked at the Rayonier Mill for two years. Then he worked at the Crown Zellerbach mill for 35 years as a pipefitter, retiring on April 1, 1985. I am sure there are still many people around who remember Jerry and Lois.

Our community should be commended for its character. During his service, Jerry visited many ports around the world. Yet he wanted to call Port Angeles “home.”


John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at [email protected].

John’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month.

Jerry and Lois Dunn after they came to Port Angeles circa 1950. (Nancy VanSickle collection)

Jerry and Lois Dunn after they came to Port Angeles circa 1950. (Nancy VanSickle collection)

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